Madeira Island Ultra Trail 2017 – or ascent, ascent and more ascent

I found out about Madeira Island Ultra Trail (MIUT) from people who ran it in 2015. and 2016. And as I heard only good things about this race and the island itself I decided to go and run MIUT. After I googled it and watched a few videos from the race on YouTube I was hooked. As soon as the registration opened in October, Tamara and I applied for the race. Tamara applied for Ultra (85km) and I applied for MIUT (115km).

Training for MIUT

As every winter I started my preparations in December after a quite exhausting autumn. The plan was that I will run two hard weeks with high mileage and then one week with lower mileage, then again two hard weeks and so on and on … you get the picture. MIUT is a quite tough race with 7000m of ascent, so I decided that during preparations I will try to do much more ascents in my runs then previously. Now when I look back, I realize that I’ve done one big mistake. Although I’ve done lots of ascents (but “gentle” ones, so I could run them), I should have ran or walked on much steeper hills. It doesn’t mean that I skipped hard ascents. No, I did them also, but I should have done much more of them.

Madeira Island

Tamara and I landed on Madeira on Tuesday morning and met with our favorite French-Brazilian couple who were also on holidays. I realize that some of you are probably thinking “What kind of holiday is that, when you need to run 115 km?” I say, a nice one.
Before Madeira, we spent 6 days in Lisbon, so we can say that Lisbon was the bottom of the cake, Madeira was the delicious custard and the race was the cherry on the top.

Ok, a bit sour cherry, but still a cherry. After settling in our apartment, the next four days we spent in discovering Madeira. Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago situated in the Atlantic Ocean, approximately 900 km southwest of Portugal. Its total population was estimated at 267.000. It includes a few islands, from which Madeira Island is the biggest one.

The capital of Madeira is Funchal, located on the main island’s south coast. Madeira Island is beautiful with amazing nature, seductive scent of herbs and trees, peaceful levada walks and breathtaking views on the Atlantic Ocean. To me Madeira Island is the perfect scenery for making a new Jurassic park movie! When we were exploring the island I was constantly expecting an attack from Velociraptor :).

MIUT – Madeira Island Ultra Trail

Tamara was running Ultra (85km, +4700m) and her start was at 7 am on Saturday morning, while I was running MIUT (115km, +7000) and my start was on Friday at midnight. MIUT route starts at Porto Moniz, goes across the whole Island and finishes at town Machico. Departure of the buses from Machico towards Porto Moniz with the athletes of MIUT was at 21:30. Inside the bus I was trying to get some more sleep, but unfortunately my stomach was growling again. On Thursday I started to have some stomach problems…it was nothing big, but definitely not good before an ultra race. Although I tooka few pills of activated charcoal on Friday which helped a bit, as the start of the race was approaching I was getting more nervous,so maybe that triggered problems with my stomach again. Anyway, as the buses came to Porto Moniz I went to the bar and drank some Coke, did my last pre-race preparations and it was time to go to the start.

I started the race in the back and as the first part of the race is a wide asphalt road I managed to get somewhere in the middle. That was important because I didn’t want to get stuck in the back once we come to the single trail part. In the beginning everything was fine, I dictated my one pace, there were lots of loud supporters on the start of the race and after the first descent I felt good and my stomach was finally ok. Unfortunately that moment of bliss didn’t last for very long time. My stomach got a little upset somewhere around 10K mark…everything will be ok, I was reassuring myself…but I was so wrong. By 15K mark everything went south and then I knew I am in trouble. I needed to go to the toilet, I wanted to throw up, but the worst was still to come. As I was going further, my stomach ache was bigger and bigger, then I started to feel week and then dizziness kicked in.

In the end I was not able to maintain straight direction; I was walking in zigzag pattern. People started to pass by me and I remember I was thinking to myself this is not good, it is too early in the race for such problems. I was thinking why now? Why me? Why after so much training? Just for illustration, in that period of time I managed to drop for more than 200 positions.
It is not that I didn’t have this type of problems before, it is that they were not so intense and they didn’t start so early in the race. Somehow I managed to drag my body to Estanquinhos at 29K mark and for that it took me six and a half hours! At that point I was thinking this is it, you will drop out and there is nothing you can do about it. I even called Tamara and told her that I am going to quit, she agreed with me, but then…

At that time something happened, maybe it was spite, maybe it was just pure will to continue, maybe it was revelation that to next refreshing point is around 10K and that it is downhill with some flat parts…anyway whatever it was, I decided to continue. I was thinking to myself I will drag myself to Rosario point and then I will decide, if I will feel better I will continue, if not I will drop out, because at the current pace I won’t be finished by Christmas.

Then just 2 or 3K after I left Estanquinhos my vertigo started to yield, my stomach started to feel better, and I was even able to run a little. By the time I came to Rosario I almost didn’t have any symptoms, I took a bit of food and mineral water and continued. I realized at that point that there is no chance that I am going to finish the race in the time that I was hoping to, but on the other hand I was happy that I can continue. Finally I was able to walk up the hills without feeling any dizziness. Somewhere around 45-46 K I caught up with Mile, a guy from my running club, so to the next refreshment point we were going together, talking about this and that. At Curral das Freiras (60K), bags with spare clothes were waiting for us so I changed my shirt and socks, freshened up a bit and put some soup and crackers in my belly.

I left alone from there preparing myself mentally for the hardest part of race, ascent to Pico Ruivo and Pico do Areeiro. I got to admit, people that have finished MIUT before warned me about this part of the race and to be honest I listened to their advices, but on some level inside me I was thinking it will be an ascent like any other. Well on one hand it is true, but on the other it is an endless climb to the mountain. In the beginning the ascent is not so steep, rather long and continuous, but after that you have steep ascents, flat parts and steep descents, of course there are still parts with long boring, not so steep ascents.

Anyway I was still trudging and constantly changing with some German guy, at the moment he was in front, then it was me, then again him but every time we were passing each other we were also exchanging words of support. Believe me I needed the words of support because my stomach started to bug me again…it was nothing major, but still enough to make me feel discomfort. Good thing was that the scenery around us was beautiful, green forests, mystical peaks, scenic trails, it was just marvelous, but still Pico Ruivo and Pico do Areeiro were nowhere to be seen.

Then suddenly before I even realized, I was at Casa do Pico Ruivo (mountain hut jest below peak), took some refreshment and continued towards Pico do Areeiro. Ascents and descents became much steeper and new challenge was added: stairs. But all of this was in the shadow of beautiful narrow trails on the edge of the cliffs and mysterious tunnels that are carved in the mountains, so step by step I finally reached Pico do Areeiro. Again I had some soup and salty crackers and I was ready for the next stage of the race, from Pico do Areeiro almost everything is flat and downhill, if you don’t count one more bigger ascent. As there was still only about 2.5 hours of light I decided that I will try to go a bit faster so I could cover more ground before dark.

Symptomatically as the night started, so my problems started also and this time it was blisters. Again nothing new to me and since the problem started around 85K mark I was quite happy that I was able to run and walk for so long without my arch nemesis. I put some bandage on my feet and some anti chafing cream and continued on. Somewhere between Poiso and Larano I was on some single trail inside deep forest, I was in my own thoughts (stupid blisters and I hate running), when I heard some voices. I looked behind me and nobody was there. I stopped, looked around me, no head lamps to be seen, just some kind of handmade balls hanging from the trees and voices from the forest. I admit a few scenes from horror movies crossed my mind and let’s say that I picked up the pace until I came to some really steep descent where I needed to slow down. Luckily, the voices stoped following me. Were there really people in the forest or was it just my hallucination I still don’t know.

From Larano (103K) the trail was leading across narrow trails on the edge of the cliffs. On some part of the trail there was a fence, but on the most parts there wasn’t and since I wasn’t in the mood for a swim in the ocean a few hundred meters below me I watched my step carefully. Of course since it was dark I couldn’t see the ocean but I could hear it rumbling sinisterly below me. Last part of the race was levada walks. At that point I was tired, sleepy and blisters were annoying me, so I decided to run to the end. So for the last 6K I was running…of course it was slow, probably the snails were faster than me, but still I was running and unbelievably I was passing people.

At one point I saw the lights from Machico and soon I was able to see the finish line from distance. And then I heard a voice coming from the speaker:s COME ON, COME ON, COME ON IVAN FROM CROATIA, and I was at the finish line. Tamara jumped on me, she was probably happier than me at that point. Tamara finished the race approximately 2 hours before me, although we were hoping that we will meet somewhere on the trail, due to my stomach I was simply too slow for her that day. Of course, one of my first sentences to her was: finally I’m done.


Did I like Madeira? Yes
Did I like the MIUT? Yes
Did I enjoy MIUT? Due to my stomach, not so much :).
Was I happy with the organization of race? Yes, most definitely.
Would I go again? Answer to that is complicated. When Tamara asked me that question next morning I said no fu…. way, now two months later when I’m writing this article answer is maybe. Ask me about it in three months, it will probably be YESSS.

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